Robert Posner enriched many people’s lives with his charm, intelligence and kindness. He died of cancer on Monday 9 October in a remote cottage on Skye, where he’d moved in 2017. It was an odd place for a man as sociable as Robert to end up, perhaps, but he didn’t need much and made lifelong friends wherever he went. And he had his beloved daughter, Naomi, with him at the end.
Thirty-seven years ago, Robert walked into Literary Review’s office for what would be the first of a number of stints as its business manager. One of the staff had spotted a beautiful man reading the magazine in a nearby cafe and had drawn his attention to the job ad at the back. The editor, Auberon (‘Bron’) Waugh, hired Robert on the spot, so taken was he by his energy and warmth. Robert would be a semi-permanent fixture at the magazine for the next twenty-odd years. His position on the masthead would change regularly, from ‘boxwallah’ to whichever military rank Bron chose to bestow on him that month. Bron had a particular fondness for Robert (which was reciprocated) and seemed to fizz in his presence. But it was not just about charm. If you needed something done, Robert was your man. When I was burgled, Robert turned up hours later with a bag of tools and replaced my broken doorframe. He was what all small businesses need and did everything bar writing, commissioning and reviewing books himself. He also co-founded the Academy Club in Beak Street and ran it, enforcing the club’s only two rules (no poets, no sandals). It became one of Soho’s iconic drinking spots.
Robert was born in northwest London in 1950 and sent to boarding school at a very young age. A schoolmate remembers his buoyancy even then. Robert sat one particular exam in which he was unable to answer any of the questions and wrote instead that he knew ‘nothing about the Treaty of Ratisbon’ but did know ‘twenty-three ways to get from Golders Green to Paddington’ and proceeded to list them. The examiners failed him and themselves in not recognising a rare and original mind. After school, Robert spent a long period on a kibbutz in Israel before returning to London.
This isn’t even Robert’s first obituary. His school magazine ran one fifty-odd years ago after an incident in Switzerland. Robert hadn’t died, however. He was just serving a short term in prison there after a brush with the law. With his usual light touch, he described having a lovely time, catching up on reading and learning to restore antique furniture. Only Robert could have made Swiss jail sound like fun.
He made an extraordinary impact on those of us who were fortunate enough to work with him. He may have been brought in to deal with the business side of things, but he was bohemian and raffish and as creative as anyone. His handwriting was so exquisite that contributors often didn’t want to cash the cheques he sent them and his dress sense was almost as fabulous. A former colleague recalled to me his interview, during which Robert wore motorbike leathers and maybe even a crash helmet. These days we would call Robert a disruptor. His zest for life and humour transformed the working day, and many of us have never had quite so much fun in an office again. He lit up the world around him.